24 August, 2009

Dear Friend...

Hey Friend,

How are you doing? I hope things are going well for you. I've heard about some of the changes going on, things never slow down do they! But everything happens in His timing, I suppose, I hope He is becoming ever more evident to you during this time as you trust and rely on Him more.

Things are going well in Rwanda, at the moment I am reflecting on the Congo. Basically, I loved it. It was not what I expected, but then again, how do you know what to expect before you go? Living on the field, getting things done is harder than I expected. I feel like I need to apologize to the field staff for not understanding. It's not so easy just to say 'let's do this' and then do it. Things take longer over here, and then there is the fact that everyone wants to save face, so they will agree with no intention of following through. That's really annoying! But then again, I do it sometimes too, I don't want to disappoint. Somehow it goes back to that old adage about forgiveness verses permission, sometimes I don't have a good reason for not wanting to go, I just don't. So I get it a little bit, but living over here might me more resolute because I now see how annoying it is.

I don't think I could have chosen two different countries to visit. Rwanda is not Africa, is it regulated, orderly, westerners are protected to a certain extent, there are no shanties, the roads are paved, the government works and is anti-corruption. They are actually getting things done. Did you know there is free education in Rwanda? It's crap, and everyone wants to send their kids to private school, but the idea is there. I think Togo might have just started the same thing, and Uganda too. It's amazing! Then you have Congo. I was in Bukavu, in Southern Kivu. There is a large IDP resettlement population here. It is far enough from the violence so people feel safe.  But Congo is third world. It is the opposite of Rwanda. It is closer to Quito, and in some ways closer to Phnom Phen, though Cambodia was further along in some aspects.  

It's not what I expected. I keep coming back to that. There are mansions on the hill, overlooking the lake. Ruminants I'm sure of Muboto, some are NGO offices or homes, some are being squatted in, but, from a distance, the shore of Lake Kivu looks like southern Cali, from a distance. But once you get into town it's decayed 1930's Europe meets third world. Decaying storefronts give way to brown shanties. The people look at you skeptically, hopelessly. I saw the same look everywhere in Cambodia, people knowing they can only rely on themselves, desperate to break through a ceiling that is dusted over. Their government is not working for them, there is war not that far away, everyone knows someone affected, the stories are horrific. And when will it end?

I know Congo, or I thought I did, stats are different than faces; stories are different than lives. I hoped I would feel more sitting there, a definite yes or no. I had strong feelings of whether or not I could live somewhere the other places I have been. I enjoyed Ecuador but knew I could not be there long term, DC felt like home moments after getting of the plane, but so far - nothing. Maybe because this time it's not up to me if I stay.

I met with the director and I have no idea how it went. I felt like I have to sell myself, but I don't know what they are looking for. I don't speak French, though I could learn, I don't know what I could bring – curiosity, love, determination, ideas, drive. Are any of those things marketable? Is it what they want? Do my black and white, no excuses, get off your duff and do it expectations translate to the Congo?

I don't know what to do with the five thousands thoughts in my head. I am sitting here thinking about what I was sent to do, this education project so defined and yet so opaque. Interview 120 kids sounded so easy in the U.S. – yet sitting here it seems insurmountable.

I want to talk to you, pounce ideas off you, drink coffee with you. I keep thinking if I could pick your brain for just one moment this might not seem so hard. How do you deal with conflict in a culture you are a visitor in, where you are only seen as money because you are white, and still considered, even marginally, less because you are a woman? How do you stand against injustice and wrong when it is ingrained? How do you look at the follies of the church and stand up to it when it's culture, greed and American blindness that keeps it going?

Will I ever stop feeling like an outsider? I was talking to someone about language the other day and she said she hates knowing it because she knows what people are saying about her when she walks in the market. They assume she doesn't understand and so they can be cruel. Sometimes she answers them, sometimes she blocks it out. I understand few works in Kinyarwandan but one is "muzungu" – white person. It's the only word I catch in a sentence and somehow know (or suspect) the rest is not good. Do I want to give that up? I should learn the language, I should strive to fit in more. But do they care? I feel stupid dressing in their clothes, eating at their restaurants, etc. because it feels false. There is a line Paul Farmer said, they don't want us to look like them, they want you to help them… And that's how I feel. But the need is insurmountable, so maybe dressing in their patterns and eating bananas and rice (again!) is easier than actually getting your hands dirty yet staying one step removed because you always will be.

I'm lost at the moment. I love it here, love Congo more than Rwanda, could see myself in Bukavu for a while. But is this the right way? Do I want to do it alone? Do I want to make friends where they can always talk around me in Swahili if they want? Every time they converse with me they are using their third or fourth language and I only know one. Their intelligence highlights my stupidity and laziness.

I miss DC. I miss bookstores and paved roads and good coffee. I miss reliable Internet, not standing out in a crowd, knowing where I am going. I miss the things that make my life easier, but, in my heart, I am content. What does that mean? I feel like I have no one so I turn to my journal, or my blog to keep my attached to something I know. They did devotions in Congo and I just wanted to be sitting at Wednesday lunch... I miss my life in DC, but it's my life a year ago. People have moved, friendships have changed, my studio is occupied by someone else. I miss a portrait that doesn't exist anymore, a brief reprieve of never feeling like I fit.

What's to come with me? What am I to do? I feel full of passion with no tangible skills. Full of dreams lacking mechanics.

And you can't answer any of this, I know. I have wanted to contact you since I left, just to check in. I feel like I need to check in on you, when really, maybe it should be the other way around. You taught me so much, gave me so much, and I somehow want you to tell me what to do here. Tell me what's coming because I have no idea and it's freaking me out!

It's funny, when I had one of these days in DC I would call you because you never caught onto my mood and I could forget that I feel like a little girl in grownup clothing 78% of the time. Maybe I am still too much of a country girl at heart, maybe that's why every time it rains I want to go play in it, why I still enjoy the quiet of doing nothing, of why I still hope things can be better. Is it idealistic? Or did God give me a little bit of child like innocence to combat my bluntness and black and white attitude?

Still, I been to the Congo and that is really freaking cool. I sat in a place that has occupied my thoughts since college. I keep thinking of Yaw asking if our organization worked in the Congo, no, no, we don't, but we should!

I'm ok, things are ok, this is part of it, right? I'll let you go back to work, just wanted to say hi!

See you in November.